After matriculating at King David Linksfield, Derek began medical school at Wits, but took a year ‘off’ to get a Medical BSc. After his 3rd year, Derek transferred to Harvard Medical School in Boston.
After graduating from Harvard in 1970, he spent a year in New York at Mount Sinai in a ‘medical internship’. After that, he moved back to Boston to the Beth Israel Hospital to train in psychiatry and has been there ever since. In his practice Derek sees individuals and couples – with very different approaches.
Early in his career, patients would ask him about sexual problems about which he knew nothing about. The field of human sexuality was just beginning, with people like Masters and Johnson and Helen Singer Kaplan. Derek claims he was ‘flying by the seat of his pants' and barely keeping a chapter ahead of his patients; sexuality became a significant part of his practice. The challenge he faced was to integrate the principles of individuals, couples and sexual approaches tailored to individual patients. Over the last 25 years, he has seen more teenagers and college students which has been a pleasure and a joy.
Derek’s wife, Cathie, is also a psychiatrist, and they have been married for 46 years, have 2 daughters and 5 grandchildren, 3 of whom live with the Polonsky’s and their parents which brings them much joy! Cathie is from New York and has been the rock to Derek and their family.
Derek sees life as a journey with ups and downs, unanticipated changes and challenges and he thinks a lot about his past; his time in South Africa, his emigrating, his parents, his own marriage and becoming a parent. Derek finds there is a constant evolution of the ‘narrative’ where past events take on new and different meanings. He has a different view of his parents and their own upbringing and has so many questions he regrets not being able to talk about.
Like so many, he can’t believe that he is almost 80 which used to sound SO old and yet, Derek doesn’t feel old. He is mindful now of the finiteness of time. The Polonsky’s renovated a kitchen in their Cape Cod home 16 years ago. Derek feels like it was yesterday as it has raced by. Thinking of the next 16 years racing by would bring him to over 90!
Derek has made a donation to the King David Schools’ Foundation in the name Norman Sandler, the Boss. He knows this will surprise some people but, Norman Sandler was a very influential person in Derek’s high school career. Derek felt seen and valued by him and he helped Derek make an easy transition to the school.
"I had a miserable Form 1 year at King Edwards moving to KDHS for Form 2. Norman Sandler had a significant influence on my time at King David. He was welcoming and encouraging and through my four years there, I always felt his support. Memorable teachers were Mrs. Klein, Dr. Thomas, Mr. Tannenbaum, Mnr. Jordaan and chain-smoking Mr. Lowry. I was never much involved in sport where traditionally students are recognized. But at King David, there was also recognition for academic achievement for which I, among others, was awarded a ‘colours’ blazer."